Bikepacking's Chill Cousin: Land Rafting
Have you ever gone bikepacking?
If you have, you know there’s a certain simplicity that comes from hitting the open road, carrying everything you need to survive in a few small bags strapped to your bike.
It’s like a throwback to a simpler time when we humans were more capable and resourceful - an homage to our nomadic roots.
It can be freeing.
But it’s also a lot of work.
Sure, it’s a bit of an exaggeration to liken bikepacking to an ancient lifestyle. It doesn’t feel very old-timey to stuff a synthetic-insulated ultralight sleeping bag into a fancy waterproof bag that is strapped to a bike frame built with space-age composite materials.
It’s not that rustic, but it is more rustic than our comfortable lives.
We wake up in our air-conditioned house, step into our air-conditioned car, and sit in our air-conditioned office for the day. Then we head home, sit on the couch, order a meal on our cellphone from UberEats, and turn on our TV to rewatch The Office for the 20th time, before heading to bed and doing it all over again the next day.
Of course, there is some dramatic license being taken here, but is the above really that different from the average person’s average day?
All this is to say, bikepacking provides a brief respite from the comfortable routines of modern life. We all need a little more rustic living in our life.
Now bear with me, as I take what many of you probably consider a u-turn. I know I just mentioned that we could use a little bit of a challenging adventure to break the routines in our life, but sometimes bikepacking might just be a bit too challenging.
For one, it’s no easy feat to pack everything you need to survive off the grid onto your bike. If you don’t have backcountry gear, or the experience to match, it can be intimidating, on the verge of terrifying.
It’s also physically demanding, and depending on your fitness level, you may be limited on the routes you can ride while lugging around 15-30 extra pounds of gear on your bike.
We haven’t even talked about one of the biggest cons of bikepacking: a distinct lack of cold beer!
We cyclists love a cold beer after a hard day’s pedal, and although there are some creative solutions for bikepacking beers, none of them are that satisfactory.
What is one to do if they are looking for a big out-and-about-sleeping-under-the-stars adventure, but also wants a little bit of safety, security, and most of all, a cold beer?
Try Land Rafting!
What exactly is Land Rafting?
The term Land Rafting was coined by Moab-local, Mike Rundle, a longtime MTB & rafting guide, talented rider, and industry legend.
“After a few seasons of guiding mountain bike trips off a fully-stocked 4x4 rig, I realized mountain bike trips and rafting trips didn’t have to be all that different,” Rundle says. “After a few beers and a little word vomit one day, the term land rafting came up, and it seems to have stuck!”
If bikepacking is the ultralight trip where you count every ounce of weight, a rafting trip is the opposite. Fully stocked coolers, fresh foods, and of course, ice-cold beer all make the cut for a rafting trip. If it fits in the raft, it can come on the trip.
Despite its fame in the outdoorsy world, Moab’s potential for adventure is untapped. That may seem strange to say about a destination that may be one of North America’s best-known, but it’s true. It speaks to the mind-boggling number of adventures one can do while based out of Moab.
For every well-known, often-talked-about, bucket list adventure in Moab - things like Arches National Park, Slickrock Trail, Dead Horse Point, or the White Rim - there are dozens of other equally amazing, but far lesser-known destinations.
One of those is Lockhart Basin.
Opposite the White Rim Trail, it offers up a route with big views, red rocks, and rugged terrain just like White Rim, but without the mad dash and luck required to secure a permit.
Yes, you could bikepack it, but having just finished up the Moab Rocks 3-day MTB Stage Race the day prior, nobody was keen on the idea of pedalling a fully-loaded bike for another 3 days. Plus, we’d earned some beer!
With some help from our new land rafting friends, we loaded up a truck to follow us and set out.
The change of pace compared to a usual Swagman Journal adventure was dramatic. There’s no rush when you have all day to get to your campsite for the night.
Our goal? A relatively pedestrian 120 km split up over 3 days and 2 amazing desert nights.
Instead of aiming to cover the distance as quickly as possible, we found ourselves spinning slow, taking in the red rocks, and stopping for whatever caught our eye off trail.
Was that a mini-freeride line off to the side? Stop and check it out!
Cool looking slab along a cliff face? Definitely riding that!
Massive pile of rocks that looks like it could have an amazing view from on top? Hop off the bikes, start scrambling, and take in that view!
3 days of land rafting hooked us! We weren’t that far removed from the hectic hustle of tourists surrounding Moab, yet we rarely saw another soul. It was just us - 5 riders, 1 driver, a dog, and a support rig - out in the desert, with no other goal than to have a good time.
We traversed through sunburns and snowflakes, camped under the stars, enjoyed great dinners around a campfire, and took in the vast desert landscape, all without a worry about how fast we were riding or how much ground was left to cover.
On the third day, we loaded into the truck only partway through our ride, a desert blizzard and plummeting temperatures cutting our final day short.
We couldn’t help but reflect on the striking contrast between our typical pursuit of speed and long distances with the laid-back nature of the past 3 days.
Land rafting was a lesson in slowing, appreciating the journey, and savoring the moments that would have otherwise been lost in the rush of covering more ground.
We traded the stress of personal records and mile markers for the freedom to explore and revel in an adventure on two wheels.
That’s what land rafting is all about.
Words & Photos: Evan Wishloff
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